Profess, the ninth album from Woven In, feels in many ways like a climax of creative evolution. Earlier releases like Highs and Ultra Lows (2016) and Razzmatazz (2018) saw Mariah Fortune-Johnson exploring a self-described dark surf sound, unearthing a shadowy kind of post-punk with snippets of vintage synth. Picking up where she the more keyboard-and-drum-machine focused Hexed to Death (2019) left off, Profess crystallizes a new sound for Fortune-Johnson, one she calls darkwave dance.
She says the album was inspired by fellow Grimalkin Records alum Hunting Dog and their 2019 experimental shoegaze album, Body, and you can hear the influence in Woven In’s embrace of sampling. Throughout the record, it brings a few new dimensions to Fortune-Johnson’s minimalist synth magic. On “Body” (titled in homage to the Hunting Dog record), it’s for laughs, as she samples an infamous Riff Raff vine–cutting “My main goal is to blow up and act like I don’t know nobody” into the beat, playing “…body” on a loop.
It smash cuts into more serious territory with the last track, “Complex Body,” where Fortune-Johnson meditates on embodiment and understanding from her perspective as a Black woman. Elsewhere, she uses samples to engage with that experience, particularly on “Til This Day Innocent,” where a bouncy 808 beat and synth bass underline impassioned vocal clips alluding to injustice. There, and on “Upsetting,” Profess marinates in an everyday kind of tension, melding social commentary and blunt, deconstructed dance beats.
Fortune-Johnson’s own low, understated vocals sometimes take a back seat, acting as another texture in the mix, as in “Spoken From the Heart,” a standout as one of the album’s poppiest tracks. That song brings all of the project’s best features under one infectious groove, with a catchy melody, crackling flares of synth, and the filtered smack of the drum machine. “I don’t need nobody’s love, but if they want to give it, I’ll take it,” she sings as a louder sampled voice repeats, “No, it’s not very nice, but it’s spoken from the heart.”
That also gives a nice summary of Woven In, insofar as niceness is beside the point. Fortune-Johnson uses the project to give her side of the story as it relates to race, sexuality, passion, and sentimentality–where they overlap and where they don’t–with stark honesty (to quote one of her samples, “If anybody don’t understand that, God be with ‘em. Go look up the history”). Profess, at 11 compact tracks, feels like an especially direct and in-the-moment expression, given how many of its tracks cut off abruptly rather than fading out or resolving. Dance-worthy and thought-provoking in its experimentation, it’s one of Woven In’s most distilled and immediate statements.
Digital proceeds from album sales via Grimalkin Records are being split evenly between Black Land Ownership and the Black Creatives Redistribution Fund, an organization founded by Mariah Fortune-Johnson to financially support Black artists. Profess is also available as a lathe cut vinyl from Grimalkin and on cassette and cassette-shaped USB drive direct from Woven In.